New Madera County Courthouse begins to take shape

MADERA, Calif.

The new courthouse is starting to take shape. Several steel beams are already in place. The four story building will replace the current main courthouse, which state officials have called one of the worst in California.

Hundreds of people use the Madera County courthouse each day, but the building was designed for children and teachers, not judges and juries.

Judge Ernie Licalsi, "This facility was Lincoln Elementary School, and it was condemned 50 years ago, so the county took it over as a temporary government center and court house, and temporary has lasted 50 years."

Judge Ernie Licalsi says the big concern here is safety. Inmates are escorted right past his chambers, in the same hallway used by jurors, attorneys, and other judges. Court security often has to clear public hallways for prisoners as well. But that will change when this new courthouse is complete.

Judge Licalsi said, "The inmates will arrive in the bottom of the courthouse in underground parking, they'll go into the holding cell, and they'll come up in the elevator straight to the courtroom."

The 111-thousand square foot facility is being built near the county's original courthouse, which is now a museum. It will include 10 courtrooms plus a parking garage. The design is environmentally friendly and inspired by the granite domes of Yosemite.

Michael Keitz, Madera County District Attorney said, "It's very exciting to have a new building here, it will help further with the downtown area in Madera, just the newness of it will hopefully attract more businesses to the locality."

The project is expected to cost about 80 million dollars, which is covered by court fees. It was one of the last to be approved before state funding cuts put a hold on other courthouse construction plans across California.

The new courthouse is set to open next year. Operations will also continue at the court branch at Bass Lake.

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